AT&T Promises Initial Mobile 5G Launch in 'Weeks'

AT&T is pushing to be the first US operator to launch standards-based mobile 5G, starting within a few weeks, the operator said on its third-quarter earnings call Wednesday.

John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Communications unit, says that the initial launch will happen "in the next few weeks." Donovan indicated that this will encompass a market -- or markets -- in the US but that the full launch in "parts" of 12 markets will be rolled out later this year. It promises seven more in 2019.

AT&T is using the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G New Radio (5G NR) standard for its deployment, unlike Verizon, which has used its home-brewed spec for its fixed "5G Home" offering, which launched on the first of October. (See Verizon to Launch Fixed 5G Service on Oct. 1.)

Verizon says it will convert to the mobile standard as soon as possible in 2019. (See Verizon CFO Expects Mobile 5G Service 'Sometime' in 2019.)

Exactly what kind of performance we see from AT&T's mobile 5G is not exactly clear yet. The operator has seen gigabit download speeds from its millimeter wave (28GHz or 39 GHz) fixed tests. The company hasn't released anticipated mobile 5G coverage range or speeds, however. (See AT&T Readies More High-Band 5G Tests as Mobile Launch Nears and AT&T 5G Tests Go Gaga for Gigabit.)

The operator also won't have 5G smartphones to sell yet, they're not expected to arrive until the first half of 2019. Instead, AT&T will offer potential subscribers a 5G-powered router that distributes the 5G signal via WiFi to other devices. AT&T is calling the unit a "mobile puck." (See AT&T's 'Mobile' 5G: What the Puck?)

AT&T is already spending on deploying 5G, fiber, FirstNet and 5G Evolution (a.k.a. 4G LTE-Advanced) updates. The operator spent $5.9 billion in the third quarter on capital expenditures, and is still guiding that it will spend $22 billion for the year.

Third quarter results were bolstered by wireless and AT&T's new TimeWarner content unit. AT&T's revenue was $45.7 billion -- up 15.7% -- for the quarter. AT&T booked $18.3 revenue in mobility for the quarter, and $7 billion from the wireline business. $7.2 billion came from the new TimeWarner unit.

AT&T's net income was $4.7 billion, or $0.65 per share, up from $3 billion, or $0.49 per share in the same quarter last. This missed analyst expectations and AT&T's shares are down over 6% in Wednesday trading.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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